Monday, March 29, 2010

Louis Jordan - Father of R&B; Grandfather of Rock

Louis Jordan's influence on American music giants such as Ray Charles, James Brown, Little Richard and Chuck Berry is responsible for the direction of popular music after the Big Band era. More importantly, he laid the foundation for rock and roll, which has been acknowledged by his 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Probably the two icons who were most influenced by Jordan - by their own accounts - were James Brown and Chuck Berry. James Brown carried the mantle of Godfather of Soul (and funk), while Chuck Berry was one of the early rock pioneers.

It would not be a stretch to claim that Jordan is one of the most important artists in popular music history.

Jordan started, like every musician of his era, in the big bands. Not just any big band, but Chick Webb's Savoy Orchestra. He didn't last long with Chick, who fired him for trying to poach Ella Fitzgerald and other musicians.

Chick must have influenced Louis, however, because after working for the world's greatest drummer, Jordan's future drummers included Chris Columbus (Sonny Payne's father), and Shadow Wilson.

The best way to know Jordan is to watch and listen - in these clips you can clearly hear how his small combo - Tympany Five - was the prototype for what was to become R&B, as well as the foundation of what was to become soul via James Brown and Ray Charles, and rock via Chuck Berry and others Jordan heavily influenced such as Bill Halley.

Here is one of his signature songs

And another for which he is known

Another signature song!

Fun, energetic and danceable. I am not sure that his early audiences realized that these were groundbreaking songs because Jordan's style was as much visual as it was musical. They probably viewed it as sheer dancing and foot-tapping joy. There was a reason his music was referred to as jump blues. Here are a few more clips that are notable. The first because it is pure R&B, and the second because the great Shadow Wilson has the drum chair and the performance epitomizes Jordan's showmanship:

NPR's Jazz Profiles, hosted by Nancy Wilson, has this 53 minute segment that digs deeply into Jordan, the man and musician, and gives insights into his career and accomplishments as told by a number of guest on the show who knew and played with him:

If you want to learn more about Jordan I recommend John Chilton's excellent book, Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music. Albums I recommend are:

The above cover the full range of Jordan's work. However if you are a die hard fan Let the Good Times Roll: The Complete Decca Recordings 1938-54 covers his most significant recorded output. An alternative - and a far less expensive one - is the 5 CD box set titled Louis Jordan & His Tympani Five.

Listening to Jordan is only half the fun - watching and listening is the best way to appreciate the full package. My recommendations: Hey Everybody -- It's Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five (released in 2007), and the older and highly rated Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five.

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